Lying Lunatic Left Democratic Party’s War on People of Faith By Opposing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Law — 19 Other States Have Similar Laws — Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — Does Not Discriminate Against Any One Including Gays and Lesbians– Videos
The Pronk Pops Show Podcasts
Story 3: Lying Lunatic Left Democratic Party’s War on People of Faith By Opposing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Law — 19 Other States Have Similar Laws — Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — Does Not Discriminate Against Any One Including Gays and Lesbians– Videos
Indiana legislators pledge to ‘fix’ controversial religious freedom law
Pence signs Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Religious Freedom Restoration Act Bill Draws Criticism, Support
Indiana lawmakers discuss the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
WFB’s Liz Harrington Discusses Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law on Real Story
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Says Religious Freedom Law ‘Absolutely Not’ a Mistake
Religious Freedom Act backlash continues in South Bend, across the US
What Does The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Ruling Mean?
The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Decision Explained
History and Impact of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Mark Steyn On The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993
Swarens: Gov. Mike Pence to push for clarification of ‘religious freedom’ law
Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told The Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to “clarify” that Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“I support religious liberty, and I support this law,” Pence said in an exclusive interview. “But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law.”
The governor, although not ready to provide details on what the new bill will say, said he expects the legislation to be introduced into the General Assembly this coming week.
Asked if that legislation might include making gay and lesbian Hoosiers a protected legal class, Pence said, “That’s not on my agenda.”
Amid the deepest crisis of his political career, Pence said repeatedly that the intense blowback against the new law is the result of a “misunderstanding driven by misinformation.”
He adamantly insisted that RFRA will not open the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. But he did acknowledge that Indiana’s image — and potentially its economic health — has been hurt badly by the controversy.
I spoke with Pence on the same day that thousands of people rallied at the Statehouse in opposition to the law. And the same day that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company will abandon a deal with the state and city to expand the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis because of RFRA’s passage.
Oesterle’s statement is a telling sign that the outrage over RFRA isn’t limited only to the political left. Oesterle directed Republican Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. And it’s a signal that the damage from the RFRA debacle could be extensive.
Behind the scenes, Pence and his team have been scrambling to mitigate that damage — both to the state and to the governor’s political career.
Pence said, for example, that he had a “cordial and productive” conversation with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, who announced shortly after Pence signed the RFRA legislation on Thursday that the company will cancel all corporate-related travel to Indiana. That conversation, however, has not led to a reversal of the Salesforce decision.
I asked the governor if he had anticipated the strongly negative reaction set off by the bill’s passage. His response made it clear that he and his team didn’t see it coming.
“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” he said. “I’ve been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill.”
In defense of the legislation, he noted that 19 other states and the federal government have adopted RFRA laws similar to Indiana’s. And he pointed out that President Barack Obama voted for Illinois’ version of RFRA as a state senator.
The governor also criticized the news media’s coverage of the legislation. “Despite the irresponsible headlines that have appeared in the national media, this law is not about discrimination,” he said. “If it was, I would have vetoed it.”
Yet, those justifications, cited repeatedly by the governor’s supporters in recent days, have done little to quell the controversy.
Which is why the proposal to clarify the law’s intent with a new bill has gained traction among Pence’s advisers in the past couple of days.
Pence also plans to fight back in the state and national media. He’s scheduled, for instance, to defend the law Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. “I’m not going to take it (the criticism) lying down,” he said.
As we wrapped up the conversation, I asked Pence: What answer do you have for the many gays and lesbians — and their friends and families — who’ve asked this past week if they are still welcome in Indiana?
“First, this law is not about discrimination. It’s about protecting religious liberty and giving people full access to the judicial system,” he said. “But, yes, Hoosier hospitality is about making all people feel welcome in our state. We did that with the Super Bowl and with many other events, and with bringing businesses here. We will continue to do that.”
Whether Pence can get that message across — whether he still has the credibility to get people to believe it — will help determine the extent of RFRA’s damage. First, and most important, for the state. But also for Mike Pence’s political future and legacy.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.
Argued March 25, 2014
Decided June 30, 2014Full case nameSylvia Burwell, Secretary ofHealth and Human Services, et al., Petitioners v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Mardel, Inc., David Green, Barbara Green, Steve Green, Mart Green, and Darsee Lett; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, et al., Petitioners v. Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al.Docket nos.13-354
13-356Citations573 U.S. ___ (more)
HoldingAs applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Health and Human Services(HHS) regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). HHS’s contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion under the RFRA. The Court assumes that guaranteeing cost-free access to the four challenged contraceptive methods is a compelling governmental interest, but the Government has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.Court membership
John G. Roberts
Case opinionsMajorityAlito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, ThomasConcurrenceKennedyDissentGinsburg, joined by Sotomayor; Breyer, Kagan (all but part III-C-1)DissentBreyer and KaganLaws applied
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. ___ (2014), is a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Courtallowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. It is the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief, but it is limited to closely held corporations.[a] The decision is an interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and does not address whether such corporations are protected by the free-exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
For such companies, the Court’s majority directly struck down the contraceptive mandate, a regulation adopted by theUS Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring employers to cover certain contraceptives for their female employees, by a 5-4 vote. The court said that the mandate was not the least restrictive way to ensure access to contraceptive care, noting that a less restrictive alternative was being provided for religious non-profits, until the Court issued an injunction 3 days later, effectively ending said alternative, leaving no employer-sponsored alternative for any female employees of closely held corporations that do not wish to provide birth control.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Employment Division v. Smith (1990) that a person may not defy neutral laws of general applicability[b] even as an expression of religious belief. “To permit this,” wrote Justice Scalia, “would make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” He wrote that generally applicable laws do not have to meet the standard of strict scrutiny, because such a requirement would create “a private right to ignore generally applicable laws”. Strict scrutiny would require a law to be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.
In 1993, the US Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), requiring strict scrutiny when a neutral law of general applicability “substantially burden[s] a person’s[c] exercise of religion”. The RFRA was amended in 2000 by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) to redefine exercise of religion as any exercise of religion, “whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief”, which is to be “construed in favor of a broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this chapter and the Constitution”. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the RFRA as applied to federal statutes in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita in 2006.
Affordable Care Act
Most Americans are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which relies on the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to specify what kinds of preventive care for women should be covered in certain employer-based health plans. HHS exempted religious employers (churches and their integrated auxiliaries, associations of churches, and any religious order), non-profit organizations that object to any required contraception, employers providing grandfathered plans (that have not had specific changes before March 23, 2010), and employers with fewer than 50 employees. The HRSA decided that all twenty contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be covered. Companies that refuse are fined $100 per individual per day, or they can replace their health coverage with higher wages and a calibrated tax.
Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties
Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts company founded by self-made billionaire David Green and owned by the Evangelical Christian Green family with about 21,000 employees. It provided the contraceptives Plan-B and Ella until it dropped its coverage in 2012, the year it filed its lawsuit. It is the largest funder of theNational Christian Charitable Foundation that uses its billion-dollar endowment to fund a network of political groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, which recently supported the Arizona SB 1062 bill that attracted national controversy. The Hobby Lobby case also involved Mardel Christian and Educational Supply, which is owned by Mart Green, one of David’s sons.
Hobby Lobby’s case was consolidated with another case by Conestoga Wood Specialties, a furniture company owned by the Mennonite Hahn family that has about 1,000 employees. They were being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.
Specific contraceptives contested by plaintiffs
The Green and Hahn families believe that life begins at conception which they equate to fertilization, and object to their closely held for-profit corporations providing health insurance coverage to their female employees of four FDA-approved contraceptives that the Green and Hahn families believe may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg (many doctors and scientists disagree), which the Green and Hahn families believe constitutes an abortion.
- Emergency contraceptive pills (sometimes inaccurately called “morning after” pills)
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
Lower court history
In September 2012, Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against enforcement of the contraception rule based on the RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The district court denied Hobby Lobby’s request for a preliminary injunction. In March 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit granted a hearing of the case. In June, the appeals court ruled that Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is a person who has religious freedom. The court ordered the government to stop enforcement of the contraception rule on Hobby Lobby and sent the case back to the district court, which granted preliminary injunction in July. In September, the government appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two other federal appeals courts ruled against the contraception coverage rule, while another two upheld it.
The case was previously titled Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. Sylvia Burwell was automatically substituted as petitioner when she was approved by the United States Senate as the Secretary of Health and Human Services after being nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Kathleen Sebelius following Sibelius’ resignation on April 10, 2014.
U.S. Supreme Court consideration
Acceptance and briefs
On November 26, the Supreme Court accepted and consolidated the case with Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. Two dozen amicus briefs support the government, and five dozen support the companies. American Freedom Law Center‘s brief argues that birth control harms women because men will only want them “for the satisfaction of [their] own desires.” Another brief argues that the contraception rule leads to “the maximization of sexual activity”. Two of the briefs oppose each other on the constitutionality of the RFRA. Two briefs that do not formally take sides oppose each other on whether the right to religion applies to corporations. One of those briefs argues that if shareholders are separated by the corporate veil from corporate liabilities, then their religious values are also separate from the corporation. It mentions the ruling in Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald made against the African American owner of JWM Investments whose contracts were breached due to racial discrimination. The brief argues that if JWM Investments could not suffer discrimination through its owner, then Hobby Lobby could not suffer religious burden through its owner. Two briefs were filed by LGBT groups concerned that future anti-discrimination laws would be pre-emptively harmed if employers could claim to be religiously exempt.
Argument and deliberation
Oral arguments were held on March 25, 2014 for 30 minutes more than the usual one hour. The three women in the court focused their questioning on Hobby Lobby’s lawyer, Paul D. Clement, while the men focused on the administration’s lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. Justice Sotomayor quoted the ruling from United States v. Lee (1982) saying that an employer can’t deprive employees of a statutory right because of religious beliefs. Clement replied that Lee does not apply because it was a challenge against a tax rather than against a significant burden. Sotomayor said that instead of paying the burden of the penalty, Hobby Lobby could replace its health care with the equivalent expense of higher wages and a calibrated tax, which the government would use to pay for the employees’ health care. Near the end of Clement’s argument, Justice Kennedy expressed concern for the rights of the employees who may not agree with the religious beliefs of their employers. When Verrilli argued that the ruling in Cutter v. Wilkinson requires the court to weigh the impact on third parties in every RFRA case, Justice Scalia said that the RFRA does not require the court to balance the interest of the religious objector to the interest of other individuals. Verilli returned to Lee,saying that granting an exemption to an employer should not impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees.
Opinion of the Court
On June 30, 2014, Associate Justice Samuel Alito delivered the judgment of the court. Four justices (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) joined him to strike down the HHS mandate, as applied to closely held corporations with religious objections, and to prevent the plaintiffs from being compelled to provide contraception under their healthcare plans. The ruling was reached on statutory grounds, citing the RFRA, because the mandate was not the “least restrictive” method of implementing the government’s interest. The ruling did not address Hobby Lobby’s claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The court argued that the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of shareholders, officers, and employees. It said that “allowing Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel to assert RFRA claims protects the religious liberty of the Greens and the Hahns.” The court found that for-profit corporations could be considered persons under the RFRA. It noted that the HHS treats nonprofit corporations as persons within the meaning of RFRA. The court stated, “no conceivable definition of the term includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but not for-profit corporations.” Responding to lower court judges’ suggestion that the purpose of for-profit corporations “is simply to make money”, the court said, “For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes, and it is not at all uncommon for such corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives.” The court rejected the contention that “the Nation lacks a tradition of exempting for-profit corporations from generally applicable laws,” pointing to a federal statute from 1993 that exempted any covered health care entity from engaging in “certain activities related to abortion”.
The court held that the HHS contraception mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion, rejecting an argument that the $2,000-per-employee penalty for dropping insurance coverage is less than the average cost of health insurance. Responding to HHS’s argument that the provision of coverage does not itself result in destruction of embryos, the Court asserted that the argument dodges the substantial burden question that the Court is supposed to address. The Court added, citing Jesuit moral manuals, that the argument is also the religious question of the morality of enabling the immoral acts of others, to which HHS had provided “a binding national answer”. The Court argued that federal courts should not answer religious questions because they would in effect be deciding whether certain beliefs are flawed. The court argued that “companies would face a competitive disadvantage in retaining and attracting skilled workers,” that increased wages for employees to buy individual coverage would be more costly than group health insurance, that any raise in wages would have to take income taxes into account, and that employers cannot deduct the penalty.
The court found it unnecessary to adjudicate on whether the HHS contraceptive mandate furthers a compelling government interest and held that HHS has not shown that the mandate is “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest”. The court argued that the most straightforward alternative would be “for the Government to assume the cost…” and that HHS has not shown that it is not “a viable alternative”. The court said that the RFRA can “require creation of entirely new programs”. The court also pointed out that HHS already exempts any nonprofit organization from paying for any required contraception by allowing it to certify its religious objection to its insurance issuer, which must “[p]rovide separate payments for any contraceptive services required to be covered”. However, the court said the approach might not necessarily be the least restrictive alternative for all religious claims.
The court concluded by addressing “the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction”. The court said that their decision “provides no such shield”, and that “prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.” The court also said that the requirement to pay taxes despite any religious objection is different from the contraceptive mandate because “there simply is no less restrictive alternative to the categorical requirement to pay taxes.” The court acknowledged the dissent’s “worries about forcing the federal courts to apply RFRA to a host of claims made by litigants seeking a religious exemption from generally applicable laws…”, noting that this point was “made forcefully by the Court in Smith“. The court responded by saying, “Congress, in enacting RFRA, took the position that ‘the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests’…The wisdom of Congress’s judgment on this matter is not our concern. Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, responding to the “respectful and powerful dissent”, by emphasizing the limited nature of the ruling and saying that the government “makes the case that the mandate serves the Government’s compelling interest in providing insurance coverage that is necessary to protect the health of female employees”, but that the RFRA’s least-restrictive way requirement is not met because “there is an existing, recognized, workable, and already-implemented framework to provide coverage,” the one that HHS has devised for non-profit corporations with religious objections. “RFRA requires the Government to use this less restrictive means. As the Court explains, this existing model, designed precisely for this problem, might well suffice to distinguish the instant cases from many others in which it is more difficult and expensive to accommodate a governmental program to countless religious claims based on an alleged statutory right of free exercise.” (Kennedy, J., concurring, p. 3, 4)
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the primary dissent, which was joined by Justice Sotomayor in full and by Justices Breyer and Kagan as to all but Part III–C–1 on “whether a corporation qualifies as a ‘person’ capable of exercising religion”. Ginsburg began, “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs. … Compelling governmental interests in uniform compliance with the law, and disadvantages that religion-based opt-outs impose on others, hold no sway, the Court decides, at least when there is a ‘less restrictive alternative.’ And such an alternative, the Court suggests, there always will be whenever, in lieu of tolling an enterprise claiming a religion-based exemption, the government, i.e., the general public, can pick up the tab.”
She challenged the majority’s unprecedented view of for-profit religion saying “Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA. The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities…Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.” Responding to the majority’s argument that the government should “assume the cost” of contraceptives, Ginsburg said that “the nation’s only dedicated source of federal funding for safety net family planning services…” is not designed to absorb the unmet needs of those already insured. She noted that “a less restrictive alternative” has not been written into law by Congress. Ginsburg warns, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield…”
Justices Breyer and Kagan wrote a one-paragraph dissenting opinion, saying that “the plaintiffs’ challenge to the contraceptive coverage requirement fails on the merits” and that they “need not and do not decide whether either for-profit corporations or their owners may bring claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.”
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, said “Today, the nation’s highest court has reaffirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith.”
Conestoga CEO Anthony Hahn said, “Americans don’t have to surrender their freedom when they open a family business.”
Conservative and pro-life groups praised the ruling. The National Review said that the Supreme Court ruling “[led] Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Bowman to call Hobby Lobby an ‘inclusive decision’ that advances everyone’s freedom.” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said, “This is a great victory for religious liberty – the bedrock of our founding. In living out our religious convictions, there are certain things we must not do. This is why we are at a watershed moment. Religious people will no longer be ordered to take action that our religion says we must not take.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “The Supreme Court has delivered one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in our generation. We are thankful the Supreme Court agreed that the government went too far by mandating that family businesses owners must violate their consciences under threat of crippling fines.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business…Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.”
Pro-choice and civil-liberties groups criticized the ruling. Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, “Today, the Supreme Court ruled against American women and families, giving bosses the right to discriminate against women and deny their employees access to birth control coverage. This is a deeply disappointing and troubling ruling that will prevent some women, especially those working hourly-wage jobs and struggling to make ends meet, from getting birth control.” Deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Louise Melling said, “This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law.”
In an editorial, the New England Journal of Medicine called the decision “a setback for both the ACA’s foundational goal of access to universal health care and for women’s health care specifically”, voicing concern that “in assessing the competing claims about abortion and birth control, the Court’s majority focused on the religious claims of the corporations without discussing scientific or medical opinions.” In JAMA Internal Medicine, Alta Charo wrote that “consistent with a disturbing trend among courts and legislatures to misstate or misuse scientific information in the context of women’s reproductive rights and health, the Supreme Court’s decision ignored the well-accepted distinction between contraception and abortion.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, representing 90% of U.S. board-certified gynecologists, supported a bill to overturn the Hobby Lobby ruling.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “Congress needs to take action to solve this problem that’s been created and the administration stands ready to work with them to do so. President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves, rather than their bosses deciding for them. Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “If the Supreme Court will not protect women’s access to health care, then Democrats will. We will continue to fight to preserve women’s access to contraceptive coverage and keep bosses out of the examination room.”
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who introduced the RFRA in 1993, said his law “was not intended to extend the same protection to for-profit corporations, whose very purpose is to profit from the open market.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “The mandate overturned today would have required for-profit companies to choose between violating their constitutionally-protected faith or paying crippling fines, which would have forced them to lay off employees or close their doors.”
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Although the Court restricted their ruling to ‘closely-held’ companies, this ruling will immediately affect the lives of millions of women across the country. Over 90 percent of America’s businesses are ‘closely-held,’ including such large employers as Koch Industries and Bechtel.Women should not be forced to jump through extra hoops to secure the fundamental health care they need. Allowing employers and CEOs to limit the health care available to employees is a gross violation of their workers’ religious rights. It’s just not her boss’ business.”
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to protect the religious freedom of all Americans, both individually and collectively. The notion that religious freedom belongs only to some, and even then only in private, defies our nation’s traditions, our laws, and our Constitution. And as the Supreme Court rightfully said today, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not have been clearer in saying religious liberty of all Americans must be equally protected and not unnecessarily burdened.”
Cases following SCOTUS ruling
Forbes reported that following the ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, “the Supreme Court vacated the judgment against Eden Foods and sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for further consideration.”
Wheaton College order
On July 3, 2014, the Supreme Court granted a temporary exemption to the approach it suggested as a less restrictive alternative in Hobby Lobby, where the plaintiffs would send a form (EBSA Form 700) to its insurance issuer, which would pay for the contraception. In an unsigned emergency injunction for Wheaton College in Illinois, the court said that instead of notifying its insurance issuer, Wheaton can notify the government. Once notified, the government should notify the issuer. Wheaton believed that by transferring the obligation to cover contraceptives to its insurance issuer, it was triggering that obligation. The emergency injunction does not constitute a ruling on the merits of Wheaton’s religious objection. The court said “Nothing in this interim order affects the ability of the applicant’s employees and students to obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.”
In a 15-page dissent joined by the other two women on the court, Justice Sotomayor criticized the majority’s reasoning: “Wheaton’s application comes nowhere near the high bar necessary to warrant an emergency injunction from this court…The court’s actions in this case create unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy, and they ignore a simple truth: The government must be allowed to handle the basic tasks of public administration in a manner that comports with common sense.”
In dueling commentaries between regular SCOTUSblog contributor Marty Lederman and co-founder Tom Goldstein, Lederman argued that only Form 700 can require an insurance provider to pay for contraception coverage. Goldstein argued that an existing regulation allows the government to specify an alternative to Form 700. He pointed out that “the Court didn’t accept Wheaton’s most aggressive argument” that it cannot be required to do anything. He said that Justice Kennedy’s concurrence is controlling and makes clear that the RFRA is not violated by requiring Wheaton to notify the government.
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Religious exemption from laws that apply to the general public
Although the court stated clearly that the decision is limited to the contraceptive mandate (Syllabus p. 4-5), the ruling is seen to have consequences extending far beyond contraception. Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general said, “for the first time, commercial enterprises could successfully claim religious exemptions from laws that govern everyone else.” Fifteen states had filed a brief arguing that businesses would be able to deny coverage for transfusions, stem cell treatments, and psychiatric care. In line with the dissenting opinion, The American Prospect asked, “[W]ill the taxpayers have to send a check to employees if employers feel that minimum wage laws violate their religious beliefs?” Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that objections to paying health benefits for same-sex spouses will get traction. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLT) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights withdrew their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed by the Senate, saying that its religious exemptions would allow companies to fire or refuse to hire LGBT workers in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling. NGLT executive director Rea Carey said, “We do not take this move lightly. We’ve been pushing for this bill for 20 years.”
Such concerns are focused on the court’s application of the federal RFRA law and were driven by national controversy over a state RFRA amendment bill in Arizona. Douglas Laycock, law professor at the University of Virginia, said, “The whole secular left has decided” that RFRA laws “are very dangerous because they care so much more about the contraception cases and gay rights.” He said RFRA laws are mischaracterized because they do not dictate outcomes favoring religious objectors, they only require courts to use the highest standard of scrutiny on any law challenged. Mark Kernes, Senior Editor and Chief Legal Analyst forAVN magazine stated in an op-ed piece, “If the Hobby Lobby decision supports the ‘right’ of companies not to make available birth control that will prevent women from “catching” a pregnancy, what’s to keep those same religious companies from arguing that providing access to PrEP drugs like Truvada, which help prevent gays (and, admittedly, everyone) from catching HIV shouldn’t similarly be excluded from their health plans?”
Imposition of religious beliefs onto others
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said that the Supreme Court has never ruled that companies have religious beliefs and that “it has never held that religious exercise provides a license to harm others, or violate the rights of third parties.” Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director, said religious freedom “gives us all the right to hold our beliefs, but it doesn’t give you the right to impose your beliefs on others, to discriminate against others.” The editorial board of The New York Times wrote that the decision “swept aside accepted principles of corporate law and religious liberty to grant owners of closely held, for-profit companies an unprecedented right to impose their religious views on employees.” A Fox News columnist wrote, “[W]ith all of the debate about the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners, what about the religious beliefs of their employees? They are just as important, and should not be trampled upon.”The director of the United Church of Christ’s Washington, D.C. office, said that the ruling “may embolden private employers to claim religious objections to particular health care services, in effect forcing their own religious views upon their employees.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “It’s the first time that our court has said that a closely-held corporation has the rights of a person when it comes to religious freedom, which means that the…corporation’s employers can impose their religious beliefs on their employees.” The Center for American Progress said that the ruling “moves in the direction this court has been moving already, which is talking about corporate personhood—really treating corporations like people, saying that the corporation has a religion itself and that should be imposed on its employees.” Interfaith Alliance leader Rev. Welton Gaddy said, “The First Amendment is at its best when it is used to protect the rights of minorities from the whims of the powerful. Today’s decision, which gives the powerful the right to force their religious beliefs on those around them, is a far cry from the best traditions of religious freedom.”
Scholars on the other side (including some on the left) disagree, arguing that companies owned and run by liberals will likewise benefit from the freedom to operate according to their conscience or values – which has not been viewed as “imposing” views, because people routinely choose whom to associate with based on philosophical compatibility. This debate reflects a larger recurring ideological issue over what constitutes “coercion” or “imposing” – e.g., whether burdens imposed by law onto employers are better or worse than burdens imposed by employers on employees.
The New York Times editor Dorothy J. Samuels wrote, “If owners indicate that they are not entirely separate from their corporation—by denying corporation employees’ birth control coverage based on their personal religious beliefs—the case could be made in future state-court litigation that they have waived their right to be shielded from responsibility for corporate financial liabilities.” The dean of the UC Irvine School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky said, “The liabilities of the corporation are not attributed to the owners, so why should the owners be able to attribute their beliefs to the company?” Samuels leaves her readers with an adage: “Be careful what you wish for.” Several legal scholars wrote an amicus brief to the Supreme Court for this case arguing this danger, while scholars on the other side counter that incorporated non-profit organizations enjoy liability protection despite their activities based on religious or other values/conscience-based causes.
- Birth control
- National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius
- Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal
- Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
- Religious freedom
- Religious Freedom Restoration Act
- Reproductive freedom
- The Sherbert Test
Religious Freedom Restoration Act
|Long title||An Act to protect the free exercise of religion.|
|Enacted by||the 103rd United States Congress|
|Effective||November 16, 1993|
|Statutes at Large||107 Stat. 1488|
|Titles amended||42 U.S.C.: Public Health and Social Welfare|
|U.S.C. sections created||42 U.S.C. ch. 21B § 2000bb et seq.|
|United States Supreme Court cases|
|City of Boerne v. Flores
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488 (November 16, 1993), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb through 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-4 (also known as RFRA), is a 1993 United States federal law aimed at preventing laws that “substantially burden” a person’s free exercise of religion. The bill was introduced by Congressman Chuck Schumer (D–NY) on March 11, 1993 and passed by a unanimous U.S. House and a near unanimous U.S. Senate with three dissenting votes and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The RFRA was held unconstitutional as applied to the states in the City of Boerne v. Flores decision in 1997, which ruled that the RFRA is not a proper exercise of Congress’s enforcement power. However, it continues to be applied to the federal government—for instance, in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal—because Congress has broad authority to carve out exemptions from federal laws and regulations that it itself has authorized. In response to City of Boerne v. Flores, some individual states passed State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that apply to state governments and local municipalities.
This law reinstated the Sherbert Test, which was set forth by Sherbert v. Verner, and Wisconsin v. Yoder, mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom, has been violated. In the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress states in its findings that a religiously neutral law can burden a religion just as much as one that was intended to interfere with religion; therefore the Act states that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
The law provided an exception if two conditions are both met. First, the burden must be necessary for the “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” Under strict scrutiny, a government interest is compelling when it is more than routine and does more than simply improve government efficiency. A compelling interest relates directly with core constitutional issues. The second condition is that the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.
Background and passage
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to all religions, but is most pertinent[dubious ] to Native American religions that are burdened by increasing expansion of government projects onto sacred land. In Native American religion the land they worship on is very important. Often the particular ceremonies can only take place in certain locations because these locations have special significance. This, along with peyote use, are the main parts of Native American religions that are often left unprotected.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment states that Congress shall not pass laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. In the 1960s, the Supreme Court interpreted this as banning laws that burdened a person’s exercise of religion (e.g.Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)). But in the 1980s the Court began to allow legislation that incidentally prohibited religiously mandatory activities as long as the ban was “generally applicable” to all citizens. Also, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, intended to protect the freedoms of tribal religions, was lacking enforcement. This led to the key cases leading up to the RFRA, which were Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association (1988) and Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990). In Lyng, the Court was unfavorable to sacred land rights. Members of the Yurok, Tolowa and Karok tribes tried to use the First Amendment to prevent a road from being built by the U.S. Forest Service through sacred land. The land that the road would go through consisted of gathering sites for natural resources used in ceremonies and praying sites. The Supreme Court ruled that this was not an adequate legal burden because the government was not coercing or punishing them for their religious beliefs. In Smith the Court upheld the state of Oregon‘s refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans fired from their jobs at a rehab clinic after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which they used in a religious ceremony. Peyote use has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. It was integrated with Christianity into what is now known as the Native American Church.
The Smith decision outraged the public. Many groups came together. Both liberal (like the American Civil Liberties Union) and conservative groups (like theTraditional Values Coalition) as well as other groups such as the Christian Legal Society, the American Jewish Congress, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the National Association of Evangelicals joined forces to support RFRA, which would reinstate the Sherbert Test, overturning laws if they burden a religion. The act, which was Congress’s reaction to the Lyng and Smith cases, passed the House unanimously and the Senate 97 to 3 and was signed into law byU.S. President Bill Clinton.
The RFRA applies “to all Federal law, and the implementation of that law, whether statutory or otherwise”, including any Federal statutory law adopted after the RFRA’s date of signing “unless such law explicitly excludes such application.”
Challenges and weaknesses
In 1997, part of this act was overturned by the United States Supreme Court. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antoniowanted to enlarge a church in Boerne, Texas. But a Boerne ordinance protected the building as a historic landmark and did not permit it to be torn down. The church sued, citing RFRA, and in the resulting case, City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507(1997), the Supreme Court struck down the RFRA with respect to its applicability to States (but not Federally), stating that Congress had stepped beyond their power of enforcement provided in the Fourteenth Amendment. In response to the Boerneruling, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000, which grants special privileges to religious land owners.
The Act was amended in 2003 to only include the federal government and its entities, such as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A number of states have passed state RFRAs, applying the rule to the laws of their own state, but the Smith case remains the authority in these matters in many states.
The constitutionality of RFRA as applied to the federal government was confirmed on February 21, 2006, as the Supreme Court ruled against the government inGonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006), which involved the use of an otherwise illegal substance in a religious ceremony, stating that the federal government must show a compelling state interest in restricting religious conduct.
Post-Smith, many members of the Native American Church still had issues using peyote in their ceremonies. This led to the Religious Freedom Act Amendments in 1994, which state, “the use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremony purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion is lawful, and shall not be prohibited by the United States or any state. No Indian shall be penalized or discriminated against on the basis of such use, possession or transportation.”
Applications and effects
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act holds the federal government responsible for accepting additional obligations to protect religious exercise. In O’Bryan v. Bureau of Prisons it was found that the RFRA governs the actions of federal officers and agencies and that the RFRA can be applied to “internal operations of the federal government.” RFRA, in conjunction with President Bill Clinton‘s Executive Order in 1996, provided more security for sacred sites for Native American religious rites.
As of 1996, the year before the RFRA was found unconstitutional as applied to states, 337 cases had cited RFRA in its three year time range. It was also found that Jewish, Muslim, and Native American religions, which make up only three percent of religious membership in the U.S., make up 18 percent of the cases involving the free exercise of religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was a cornerstone for tribes challenging the National Forest Service’s plans to permit upgrades to Snow Bowl Ski Resort. Six tribes were involved, including the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, and Hualapai. The tribes objected on religious grounds to the plans to use reclaimed water. They felt that this risked infecting the tribal members with “ghost sickness” as the water would be from mortuaries and hospitals. They also felt that the reclaimed water would contaminate the plant life used in ceremonies. In August 2008, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their RFRA claim.
In the case of Adams v. Commissioner, the United States Tax Court rejected the argument of Priscilla M. Lippincott Adams, who was a devout Quaker. She tried to argue that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, she was exempt from federal income taxes. The U.S. Tax Court rejected her argument and ruled that she was not exempt. The Court stated: “…while petitioner’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened by payment of taxes that fund military expenditures, the Supreme Court has established that uniform, mandatory participation in the Federal income tax system, irrespective of religious belief, is a compelling governmental interest.” In the case of Miller v. Commissioner, the taxpayers objected to the use of social security numbers, arguing that such numbers related to the “mark of the beast” from the Bible. In its decision, the U.S. Court discussed the applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, but ruled against the taxpayers.
The RFRA figured prominently in oral arguments in the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, heard by the Supreme Court on March 25, 2014. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Alito stated, that the RFRA did not just restore the law as before Smith but contains a new regulation that allows to opt out of federal law based on religious beliefs.
A day-long symposium was held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 7, 2013, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “Restored or Endangered? The State of the Free Exercise of Religion in America” featured three panel discussions and two keynote addresses.
The first keynote address was from Oliver S. Thomas, the former general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the chair of the diverse “Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion” in the 1990s that worked for the passage of RFRA. The second was from Douglas Laycock, who was an author of RFRA. His address traced the legal history of RFRA and discussed its impact on current debates, including the contraception mandate and same-sex marriage laws.
The panel discussions covered the history and impact of RFRA, religious freedom and the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and current and future challenges to the free exercise of religion in a diverse society. The addresses and panel discussions are all available online, as well as a special downloadable resource with more on RFRA, published by the Baptist Joint Committee.
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on thefreedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights was originally proposed as a measure to assuage Anti-Federalist opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Courtapplied the First Amendment to states—a process known as incorporation—through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Founding Father Thomas Jefferson‘s correspondence to call for “a wall of separation between church and State”, though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute. Speech rights were expanded significantly in a series of 20th and 21st-century court decisions which protected various forms of political speech, anonymous speech, campaign financing, pornography, and school speech; these rulings also defined a series of exceptions to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court overturned English common law precedent to increase the burden of proof for defamation and libel suits, most notably in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Commercial speech, however, is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation.
The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota (1931) and New York Times v. United States (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraint—pre-publication censorship—in almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In 1776, the second year of the American Revolutionary War, the Virginia colonial legislature passed a Declaration of Rights that included the sentence “The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.” Eight of the other thirteen states made similar pledges. However, these declarations were generally considered “mere admonitions to state legislatures”, rather than enforceable provisions.
After several years of comparatively weak government under the Articles of Confederation, a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia proposed a new constitution on September 17, 1787, featuring among other changes a stronger chief executive. George Mason, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the drafter of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, proposed that the Constitution include a bill of rights listing and guaranteeing civil liberties. Other delegates—including future Bill of Rights drafter James Madison—disagreed, arguing that existing state guarantees of civil liberties were sufficient and that any attempt to enumerate individual rights risked the implication that other, unnamed rights were unprotected. After a brief debate, Mason’s proposal was defeated by a unanimous vote of the state delegations.
For the constitution to be ratified, however, nine of the thirteen states were required to approve it in state conventions. Opposition to ratification (“Anti-Federalism”) was partly based on the Constitution’s lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. Supporters of the Constitution in states where popular sentiment was against ratification (including Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York) successfully proposed that their state conventions both ratify the Constitution and call for the addition of a bill of rights. The U.S. Constitution was eventually ratified by all thirteen states. In the 1st United States Congress, following the state legislatures’ request, James Madison proposed twenty constitutional amendments, which were then condensed to twelve and forwarded to the states. Ten of these were ratified and became the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment passed the House and Senate with almost no recorded debate, complicating future discussion of the Amendment’s intent. The First Amendment (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights) was submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, and adopted on December 15, 1791.
Establishment of religion
Thomas Jefferson wrote with respect to the First Amendment and its restriction on the legislative branch of the federal government in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists (a religious minority concerned about the dominant position of the Congregationalist church in Connecticut):
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
In Reynolds v. United States (1878) the Supreme Court used these words to declare that “it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere [religious] opinion, but was left free to reach [only those religious] actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.” Quoting from Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom the court stated further in Reynolds:
In the preamble of this act […] religious freedom is defined; and after a recital ‘that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty,’ it is declared ‘that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere [only] when [religious] principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.’ In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State.
Originally, the First Amendment applied only to the federal government, and some states continued official state religions after ratification. Massachusetts, for example, was officially Congregationalist until the 1830s. In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the U.S. Supreme Court incorporated the Establishment Clause (i.e., made it apply against the states). In the majority decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote:
The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another … in the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State’ … That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.
In Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution prohibits states and the federal government from requiring any kind of religious test for public office. In the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994), Justice David Souter, writing for the majority, concluded that “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” In a series of cases in the first decade of the 2000s—Van Orden v. Perry (2005),McCreary County v. ACLU (2005), and Salazar v. Buono (2010)—the Court considered the issue of religious monuments on federal lands without reaching a majority reasoning on the subject.
Everson used the metaphor of a wall of separation between church and state, derived from the correspondence of PresidentThomas Jefferson. It had been long established in the decisions of the Supreme Court, beginning with Reynolds v. United States in 1879, when the Court reviewed the history of the early Republic in deciding the extent of the liberties of Mormons. Chief Justice Morrison Waite, who consulted the historian George Bancroft, also discussed at some length the Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments by James Madison, who drafted the First Amendment; Madison used the metaphor of a “great barrier.”
Justice Hugo Black adopted Jefferson’s words in the voice of the Court. The Court has affirmed it often, with majority, but not unanimous, support. Warren Nord, in Does God Make a Difference?, characterized the general tendency of the dissents as a weaker reading of the First Amendment; the dissents tend to be “less concerned about the dangers of establishment and less concerned to protect free exercise rights, particularly of religious minorities.”
Beginning with Everson, which permitted New Jersey school boards to pay for transportation to parochial schools, the Court has used various tests to determine when the wall of separation has been breached. Everson laid down the test that establishment existed when aid was given to religion, but that the transportation was justifiable because the benefit to the children was more important. In the school prayer cases of the early 1960s, (Engel v. Vitale and Abington School District v. Schempp), aid seemed irrelevant; the Court ruled on the basis that a legitimate action both served a secular purpose and did not primarily assist religion. In Walz v. Tax Commission (1970), the Court ruled that a legitimate action could not entangle government with religion; in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), these points were combined into the Lemon test, declaring that an action was an establishment if:
- the statute (or practice) lacked a secular purpose;
- its principal or primary effect advanced nor inhibited religion; or
- it fostered an excessive government entanglement with religion.
The Lemon test has been criticized by justices and legal scholars, but it remains the predominant means by which the Court enforces the Establishment Clause.In Agostini v. Felton (1997), the entanglement prong of the Lemon test was demoted to simply being a factor in determining the effect of the challenged statute or practice. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), the opinion of the Court considered secular purpose and the absence of primary effect; a concurring opinion saw both cases as having treated entanglement as part of the primary purpose test. Further tests, such as the endorsement test and coercion test, have been developed to determine the whether a government action violated the Establishment Clause.
In Lemon the Court stated that that the separation of church and state could never be absolute: “Our prior holdings do not call for total separation between church and state; total separation is not possible in an absolute sense. Some relationship between government and religious organizations is inevitable,” the court wrote. “Judicial caveats against entanglement must recognize that the line of separation, far from being a “wall,” is a blurred, indistinct, and variable barrier depending on all the circumstances of a particular relationship.”
Accommodationists, in contrast, argue along with Justice William O. Douglas that “[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being”.This group holds that the Lemon test should be applied selectively. As such, for many conservatives, the Establishment Clause solely prevents the establishment of a state church, not public acknowledgements of God nor “developing policies that encourage general religious beliefs that do not favor a particular sect and are consistent with the secular government’s goals.”
Free exercise of religion
“Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order,” In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court found that while laws cannot interfere with religious belief and opinions, laws can be made to regulate some religious practices (e.g., human sacrifices, and the Hindu practice of suttee). The Court stated that to rule otherwise, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government would exist only in name under such circumstances.” In Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), the Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Free Exercise Clause to the states. While the right to have religious beliefs is absolute, the freedom to act on such beliefs is not absolute.
In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Supreme Court required states to meet the “strict scrutiny” standard when refusing to accommodate religiously motivated conduct. This meant that a government needed to have a “compelling interest” regarding such a refusal. The case involved Adele Sherbert, who was denied unemployment benefits by South Carolina because she refused to work on Saturdays, something forbidden by her Seventh-day Adventist faith. In Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Court ruled that a law that “unduly burdens the practice of religion” without a compelling interest, even though it might be “neutral on its face,” would be unconstitutional.
The need for a compelling interest was narrowed in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which held no such interest was required under the Free Exercise Clause regarding a law that does not target a particular religious practice. In Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993), the Supreme Court ruled Hialeah had passed an ordinance banning ritual slaughter, a practice central to the Santería religion, while providing exceptions for some practices such as thekosher slaughter. Since the ordinance was not “generally applicable,” the Court ruled that it needed to have a compelling interest, which it failed to have, and so was declared unconstitutional.
In 1993, the Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), seeking to restore the compelling interest requirement applied in Sherbert andYoder. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the Court struck down the provisions of RFRA that forced state and local governments to provide protections exceeding those required by the First Amendment, on the grounds that while the Congress could enforce the Supreme Court’s interpretation of a constitutional right, the Congress could not impose its own interpretation on states and localities. According to the court’s ruling in Gonzales v. UDV (2006), RFRA remains applicable to federal laws and so those laws must still have a “compelling interest”.
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